Category Archives: Food

Authentic Mapo Dofu (Tofu) Recipe, a Szechuan delight!

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Authentic Mapo Dofu (Tofu) Recipe, a Szechuan delight!

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One of my favorite Szechuan foods is Mapo Dofu. It is a peasant dish with tons of flavor and textures.It is spicy, slightly crunchy and yet cooling and smooth at the same time.  I make mine with ground pork, but you can also use beef. If you get all of your ingredients together mise en place, this cooks quickly. Start the rice cooker before you do anything. Note, there is one ingredient that you may have a hard time finding, it is fermented broad bean sauce. It is available on Amazon.com. 

There are several stories about the naming of  Mapo Tofu, but the commonly accepted myth is that this dish was created by a pock-faced old woman. She was cast out of the Sichuan capital of Chengdu due to her disfigurement. One day, a weary trader happened upon her shack and she was so delighted by the company that she scraped together her meager provisions to create this dish.

broad bean

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons Szechuan peppercorns, divided
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons cold water
  • 1 1/2 pounds silken tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 pound ground lean pork
  • 6 garlic cloves grated on a microplane grater
  • 2 inches of fresh ginger grated on a microplane grater
  • 2 tablespoons fermented broad bean paste
  • 4 tablespoons Xiaoxing wine or sherry
  • 1 tablespoon sweet soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup chicken  or beef stock
  • 1/4 cup roasted chili oil 
  • 1/4 cup finely sliced scallion greens
Mise en place

Mise en place

Method

  1. Heat half of sichuan peppercorns in a large wok over high heat until lightly smoking. Transfer to a mortar and pestle. Pound until finely ground and set aside.

  2. Add remaining sichuan peppercorns and vegetable oil to wok. Heat over medium high heat until lightly sizzling, about 1 1/2 minutes. Pick up peppercorns with a wire mesh skimmer and discard, leaving oil in pan.

  3. Combine corn starch and cold water in a small bowl and mix with a fork until homogenous. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil over high heat and add tofu. Cook for 1 minute. Drain in a colander, being careful not to break up the tofu.
  4. Heat oil in wok over high heat until smoking. Add beef and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add chili-bean paste, wine, soy sauce, and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Pour in corn starch mixture and cook for 30 seconds until thickened. Add tofu and carefully fold in, being careful not to break it up too much. Stir in chili oil and half of scallions and simmer for 30 seconds longer. Transfer immediately to a serving bowl and sprinkle with remaining scallions and toasted ground Sichuan pepper. Serve immediately with white rice.

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Re-Creating Husk’s Kentuckyakai Chicken Wings, Something different for Superbowl

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Many people have heard of Husk. It is a terrific restaurant here in Charleston. Chef Sean Brock is at the helm. Last year they also opened a Husk Nashville location. Sean has a passion for all things southern and everything at Husk is made from southern ingredients. At a lunch there I tasted their signature Kentuckyaki Chicken Wings. They utilize a sauce made by Bourbon Barrell Foods called Kentuckyaki Sauce.  The sauce is basically a kicked up teriyaki sauce made with southern ingredients (except for maybe the ginger). Since I did not have the sauce on hand and I wanted to try these wings for Superbowl… I checked the ingredients for the sauce on the Bourbon Barrell website and deduced that I have access to all of the ingredients to the sauce … so I did a dump and taste version of the sauce and here are the ending results:

Sauce Ingredients:
2 Cups Soy Sauce
1/2 cup Sorghum
1/2 cup local honey
1/2 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
8 cloves Fresh Garlic very finely grated
a 2″ piece of Fresh Ginger very finely grated
1 cup of Kentucky Bourbon divided in 1/2 cup portions

Add all ingredients except the final 1/2 cup of bourbon and simmer on medium low heat for 30 minutes. Add the second 1/2 cup of  bourbon and simmer for five minutes. Allow to cool completely. This the basic sauce, which is quite thin and can be used if you want to make more of a glaze, you can add a cornstarch slurry of 1 tablespoon of cornstarch mixed with 3 tablespoons of water. Add to the sauce and simmer further till thickened.

Prepping the wings:

Brine:

Make a gallon of sweet tea using mint just as you would for drinking (1 cup of sugar to 4 qts. water and 2 ounces of loose leaf tea). I add several sprigs of mint in mine too. I also added some juniper berries and about 1/3 cup of sea salt. Put the wings in a heavy duty ziplock bag or plastic container and refrigerate overnight, or up to 24 hours.

Smoke:image

 

Remove the wings from the brine and dry off with paper towels. Put them in a smoker for 3 hours on very low heat. You only want a small amount of smoke and you want the wings to retain moisture.

Fry:

Fry the wings in peanut oil (350 degrees) and drain. It is best to do this in small batches so that the oil maintains temperature. It should not go below 225 degrees. Drain the wings on a rack and then keep warm in the oven as you are frying.

Presentation:

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Toss the wings in the sauce and place on a platter. Scatter sesame seeds and chopped chives on the wings. Enjoy!

These also go great with my North Carolina style coleslaw!

A Chef With the Heart of a Servant at Swig & Swine

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AnthonyLast week I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with a remarkable man, Chef Anthony DiBernardo of the relatively new smoked meat (A.K.A. BBQ)  restaurant … Swig and Swine. His restaurant is new to the Low Country, but he is not. He has been cooking all over the Charleston area for many years. I was so impressed when I heard his story that I just had to meet him and do a profile to share it with y’all. If you are a frequent follower of this blog, you know I do not do restaurant reviews any more, that was relegated to my Chicago days. But I have been writing about food, where it comes from and who is cooking it for the last 14 years, sometimes in publications, sometimes on my blogs and Facebook. Here is the story of a Chef who has the heart of a servant. 

Click on any of these pics for a close up…

In the Beginning:

Anthony comes from rural southern New Jersey, technically in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Born to a Scotch Irish mother and Italian father he was the youngest of four children, the other three sisters, who were 16, 14 and 7 when he came into this world. His maternal grandmother died when she was young, so Anthony’s Italian grandmother taught his mother to cook. All she knew was Italian food. There were many big family gatherings full of wonderful food.

At the age of 14, Tony started a dish washing job at a local country club owned by Ron Jaworski. He took to the back of the house like a fish to water, quickly climbing to the hot line. By the time he was a Junior in high school he was working on the line at the Tellford Inn. That is the time he decided to enter the US Navy because his parents were about to retire and he did not want them to have to put him through college. He signed on with a delayed enlistment the summer of his Junior year. As soon as he graduated from High School in 1990 he was off to San Diego for 60 days of cooking school. He went to Submarine School in Connecticut and his first deployment was to Charleston where he stood stunned to find he was to submarine Batfish “687,” the same number as his parents’ address and his grandfather’s winning lottery number. It was no accident. He teared up telling me the story.

Cooking Underwater:
Imagine being one of three chefs cooking day in and out for 130 people on a nuclear submarine, never knowing exactly where you will be going or how long you will be there. They would put fresh provisions inside the torpedo tubes and switch the refrigerators to freezers for long hauls. They did all baking in the galley because that much bread would take up valuable storage space. He kept busy taking video courses, including one on Poetry by Maya Angelou.

A Charleston Chef is Born:
In May of 1994, Anthony climbed out of the submarine and started cooking all over Charleston. Starting at Blossom, then venturing on to the old resort at Kiawah where he was executive chef for four years. He assisted in opening the new hotel and all of their kitchens. It was a tough time, working long hotel hours, weekends, holidays and special events. In 2001, his son was born and he knew that he had to make a lifestyle change. He took some time off and at a church retreat he met Sal Parco, the owner of the Dine with Sal Restaurant Group. Anthony took the helm of the culinary team and opened The Long Point Grill, Uno Mas and Mustard Seed. After seven years, he moved on to Kickn’ Chicken Restaurant Group’s Rita’s on Folly Island. It was sold to Hall’s Hospitality Group in July of 2013 and that is when Anthony started to think about what he was going to do.

Dreaming:
He took 30 days to develop a game plan and drove around West Ashley scoping out locations. He fell in love with the old OK Tire Store and its retro look. It was next door to The Glass Onion, a popular spot for dining. He got the keys and walked the old store using graph paper to design his kitchen, dining room, smoker areas and bar. Suddenly there was a call from Steve Kish, chef and co-owner of 82 Queen, along with Johnathan and Patrick Kish, they wanted to talk to Anthony about opening a restaurant on the peninsula. He sold them another idea. A deal was struck and they became 50/50 partners in the new concept, Swig and Swine. It took every penny Anthony had and some of his family members’ funds to come up with his half of the opening investment.

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The Dream Comes to Life:
Permits were applied for in October 2013. The process was a long one and they did not all come through until March 2014. So what does a hard working chef do for five months while waiting for those permits? He builds the tables, the bars, the benches and the work spaces of the restaurant. He designed the smokers with the guys at Gorilla Fabrication. After the fancier one in front of the store, they tweaked the second one, adding more insulation to the smoke box. Each one is running several nights a week, fired by oak and hickory and finished off with pecan. At midnight at least three nights a week, Anthony starts the fires in both smokers. He has an assistant tending the smokers when he is not there. He spends all night minding the smokers, adjusting the flues and taking short cat naps on the wooden benches in the dining room. He works around the restaurant and leaves about 4 pm when he can spend some time with his wife, 12 year old son and 8 year old daughter, sometimes returning back to the smokers again at midnight.

Brisket

The Food:
DiBernadino emphasizes that his place is a smoked meat restaurant, not just another BBQ joint. He broke from tradition by approaching the restaurant from a Chef’s perspective. Nothing is pre-processed. Everything depends on the food in those smokers every night. One bad move and they lose business for an entire day. 40 pound batches of meat are smoked and cooked 3 to 4 times in a 24 hour shift. When he is not spending the night next to the wood boxes, he keeps an eye on the smokers using remote cameras.

Brisket, chicken, turkey, pork belly, wings, ribs, house-made sausage and pork butt all have their place on the smokers. Freshly prepared smoked meats are placed in the case in the dining room just before lunch service and more continue smoking through the day so that the dinner service has fresh smoked meat. The wings and ribs have a dry rub with spices, everything else just gets old fashioned salt and pepper. Leftovers are usually made into a special sandwich. I had one with leftover ribs from the day before… incredible. It was on jalapeno corn bread loaf with BBQ onions and house made pimento cheese.

The sauces are all made in house, as are the sides which vary from day to day. The day I was there there was a fantastic dish with brussels sprouts, smoked mushrooms and béchamel sauce. The usual suspects are mac & cheese, collard greens (very well done), hash and rice, beans with brisket, baked potato salad, coleslaw, Brunswick stew and pickled vegetables. There are also house-made cucumber pickles on every plate with a slice of white bread and slices of onion.

Taps

Drink Up! The bar :
There are 52 Bourbons including 2 bottles of Pappy Van Winkle that reside under lock and key at night. He has recently started smoking bourbon, to make some of the best Manhattans on the planet. A terrific list of craft beers on tap and plenty more in bottles. Wines are also available. And of course there is plenty of sweet tea.

 

Anthony and Pappy

A Servant’s Heart:
Anthony confessed to me that it is all about giving his heart, talent and compassion to those who sit at his tables. He would not have it any other way. He also gives back to the community in a multitude of ways. He cooks and donates food to a variety of causes, and at this moment is collecting money to support the Ronald McDonald House’s Red Shoes Campaign. Thanksgiving he is not taking the day off. He is generously serving up a huge Thanksgiving dinner for those who do not have family here in Charleston. We are two of the lucky people that will be a part of that dinner. I will report on that soon.

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Pomegranate and Blueberry Pancakes

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These are one of my favorite fall/winter breakfast dishes…. each bite bursts with flavor and they are full of antioxidants too. As soon as my pomegranates are ripe I start making things from them and this is just one of many things I like to do with them. I sometimes make them with sourdough starter, but you can also use buttermilk and flour as I give instructions for here. I use good Vermont Maple Syrup on the side. You can change out the fruit, but I really think this is an amazing combination. Bacon on the side is a perfect compliment. Bring on the Mimosas!

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups self rising flour (White Lily preferred)
  • 2/3 to 1 cup of buttermilk
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons of melted butter
  • 1 cup of blueberries
  • 1 cup of pomegranate

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Method:

  • Using a stand mixer blend together all but the fruit. You want a fairly thin consistency, but not as thin as crepe batter. Add more buttermilk or flour as needed. Make a plain test pancake first, it should be about 1/3 of an inch thick.
  • Preheat a griddle and wipe a used butter wrapper on the griddle
  • Test heat by dropping a drop of water on it, it should immediately bounce.
  • Pour two pancakes at a time unless you have a double size griddle.
  • As soon as you have poured them on to the griddle, generously drop berries and pomegranate all over the top of the pancakes.
  • When the pancakes start to have air bubbles, it is time to flip.
  • Continue cooking till the bottom of the pancake is golden. You can lift the edge to check. This should take 1-2 minutes.

Pomegranate pancakes

 

 

 

 

Banh Mi the Ultimate Sandwich

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Banh Mi the Ultimate Sandwich

Banh Mi prep

There is nothing like a Banh Mi Sandwich! There are so many flavors and textures going on between the baguette. There are many ways to make this sandwich, in fact, my friend Andrea Nguyen has written an entire book on the subject! 

For each sandwich:

  • 1 petite baguette roll or part of a longer baguette
  • Mayonnaise (I use Duke’s)
  • Maggi Sauce (available at Hispanic and Asian groceries)
  • Char Su (this is Asian style pork belly) or BBQ chicken, pate’ or slices of rare steak
  • 3 or 4 thin seeded cucumber strips, pickling or English variety preferred
  • 2 or 3 cilantro sprigs, roughly chopped
  • 3 or 4 thin jalapeño pepper slices
  • Bean sprouts
  • Daikon and Carrot Pickle (Do Chua)

Banh Mi 1

  1. Slit the bread lengthwise, and then use a fork to pull out some of the bread, making a trough in both halves. Place the bread halves under the broiler on LOW, but watch carefully!
  2. Generously spread the inside with mayonnaise. Drizzle in some Maggi Seasoning sauce or soy sauce. layer the remaining ingredients. I like to start and end with some herbs.

DSC_0220Daikon and Carrot Pickle (Do Cha)

Makes about 3 cups

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Ingredients:

  • 1 large carrot, peeled
  • 1 pound daikons, peeled
  • teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons and 1/2 cup sugar in the raw or grated jaggery
  • 1  1/4 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 1 cup lukewarm water

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Method:

Either cut the carrot and daikon into julienne or use a spiral cutter to cut them. Place the carrot and daikons in a bowl and sprinkle with the salt and 2 teaspoons of the sugar. Use your hands to knead the vegetables for about 3 minutes, expelling the water from them. They will soften and liquid will pool at the bottom of the bowl.

Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water, then press gently. Return the carrot and daikon to the bowl.

To make the brine, in a bowl, combine the 1/2 cup sugar, the vinegar, and the water and stir to dissolve the sugar. Pour over the carrot and daikon. The brine should cover the vegetables. Let the vegetables marinate in the brine for at least 1 hour before eating. They will keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks. It is not traditional, but I like to add some dried red chile flakes too.

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The Ultimate Beef Stroganoff From Scratch

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Plated Stroganoff with roasted veggies

As Fall starts bringing us cooler weather, I start thinking of these hearty dishes from my youth (a very long time ago). My mother made Beef Stroganoff with Cream of Mushroom soup, dried reconstituted onions and anything else processed she could get her hands on. It was the age of processed foods, I really don’t blame her. My great grandmother (who was my true inspiration for cooking and gardening) on the other hand was a “scratch cook,” nothing processed and everything full fat and delicious. She was raised on an Indiana farm and spent her first 60 years there. Then they sold the farm and moved to Glendora, California where I spent almost every weekend with her till I was 14. I never saw her use a recipe and Beef Stroganoff was probably her most exotic meal. I added a few of my personal touches to this, she never used smoked paprika and  I don’t think she ever used buffalo or sherry. She made her noodles from scratch and we would roll them out with the same old rolling pin I use today. This is an easy recipe and you can take out some of the fat by using milk where I used cream and if you really want to you can use low fat sour cream or yogurt…. but I suggest that you try it this way first. It is a “splurge meal.”

Ingredients:

  • About 1 pound of beef, you can use sliced sirloin, ground beef or ground buffalo like I did.
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 # of crimini mushrooms (baby bella) sliced. Wild mushrooms would be great in this!
  • 3 shallots or 1 sweet onion diced
  • 1/4 cup glace (reduced beef stock (you can make this or buy it. Make it by reducing down 4 cups of beef stock to 1/4 cup)
  • 5 cloves of garlic finely minced
  • 1 Tablespoon Smoked Sweet Paprika
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1/2 cup of flour
  • 2 cups cream or milk (I used cream)
  • 1/4 cup sherry
  • 1/2 of a nutmeg grated (about a teaspoon)
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • Egg noodles cooked and buttered with 2 tablespoons of butter and 3 TBS fresh minced parsley

Method:

  • In a large saute pan or wok add beef and olive oil and start to brown
  • When the meat starts to brown add the onions & mushrooms till slightly golden
  • Clear a hot spot in the pan and add garlic, stir in
  • Add the glace and paprika then put on a very low simmer.

Strog 1

 

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Make the cream sauce:

  • In a 4 qt sauce pan, melt the butter and then stir in the flour with a whisk
  • Add the cream/milk and heat as it thickens
  • Add the Sherry & Nutmeg and stir again.

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We are ready for STROGANOFF! Pour the cream sauce into the pan with the beef and mushrooms. Heat till almost bubbling, then add the sour cream and stir till the sauce is all one color. Remove from heat. Serve over the noodles with chopped fresh herbs. Parsley, chervil or thyme all go well with this. I served it with roasted Brussels sprouts and Vidalia onions. This serves 4 we had leftovers for two nights.

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Irish Soda Bread Pudding with Cheddar

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Soda Bread and Irish Cheddar Bread Pudding w logo

This bread pudding recipe is a sort of a “two fer”, as it also includes a recipe for really great Irish Soda Bread. Soda Bread does not use yeast, it somewhat resembles a very large biscuit. It is easy to make and you will only use about half of the loaf for this recipe. Try toasting the leftovers with butter and jam.

Ingredients:

For the Soda Bread:

2 Cups all-purpose flour + 2 tablespoons for dusting

1 teaspoon baking soda (be sure it is fresh)

1 teaspoon non aluminum baking powder

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon fresh cracked pepper

2 Tablespoons chopped dill

1 tablespoon caraway seeds

1 Cup of buttermilk (shake before pouring)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the Pudding:

4 large fresh eggs

2 cups whole milk

½ cup of heavy cream

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 cups grated Irish Cheddar Cheese

¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Paprika

6 6 ounce ramekins or a 2 quart baking dish

Method

Soda Bread before cooking

FOR THE SODA BREAD:

Preheat oven to 350°

In a food processor add the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Pulse a few times. Add the caraway, pepper and dill, pulse a few more times. Add the buttermilk and butter. Pulse again till it just begins to form a ball.

Place on a lightly floured surface and gently knead into a smooth ball and flatten into a 6 inch flattened round. Allow to rest for 5 minutes. Place on an ungreased baking sheet.

With a very sharp knife, cut an X in the top of the dough about ½ inch deep. This assures even cooking.

Use a small sieve to dust the top with additional flour.

Bake on middle shelf (I also use a baking stone for even heat) for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown and a hollow sound is made when tapped.

Cool on a rack. This can be done one day ahead.

Soda Bread

FOR THE PUDDINGS:

Preheat oven to 350°

Spray the ramekins with olive oil

Cut ½ of the bread into cubes and place them in the ramekins about half way up. Reserve remaining cubes.

Make the custard by whisking the eggs, milk, cream, salt & pepper. Stir in the cheeses. Pour into a pitcher.

bread pudding in water bath

Place the ramekins in a hotel pan or 9 X 13 baking dish, cover the bread with custard, making sure some cheese goes in. Then add additional cubes to the top of the ramekin 3/4 of the way from the top. Pour all of the mixture into the ramekins, filling them to the top. Sprinkle with a little paprika. Add about 2 inches of water to the hotel pan and bake 35-40 minutes. They are finished when a knife is inserted and comes out clean.

Iriish Soda Bread Pudding

Remove from the water and place on a towel or rack and allow to rest for 15 minutes or more.

Share with your favorite leprechauns.

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